The outbreak had previously been confined to players, beginning last week when forward Rui Hachimura and center Moe Wagner entered the league’s coronavirus protocols Tuesday, prompting the Wizards to cancel practice. By Friday night, the numbers ballooned to six positive cases and nine total players in the league’s health and safety protocols, which account for a broad range of scenarios including contact tracing. The latest positive tests mean eight members of the organization, including seven players, have tested positive. The NBA does not release the names of players who have tested positive, citing privacy laws.
The Wizards have brought a handful of eligible players to their practice facility for individual workouts, but the team has not held practice, meetings or other in-person group activities since its most recent game Jan. 11.
The postponement of Wednesday’s game means the Wizards now account for one-third of the NBA’s 15 postponed games through the first four weeks of the season. No other team has had more than three games scratched because no other team has had an outbreak as large as Washington’s.
The Wizards (3-8) are next scheduled to play Friday night in Milwaukee against the first-place Bucks.
If that game remains as scheduled, the Wizards will need more than a few days of individual workouts to get back into game shape, especially because they will be leaning on little-used players such as third-string point guard Cassius Winston, one of the team’s two players who split time between the NBA and the G League. Players who test positive must isolate for 10 to 14 days, according to league protocols.
The coronavirus isn’t the only issue thinning the roster; starting point guard Russell Westbrook remains out with a left quadriceps injury, and the Wizards lost starting center Thomas Bryant to a partial ACL tear in his left knee this month.
Reinforcements may — eventually — be on the way. In the short term, the Wizards’ roster is down to 14 players on guaranteed contracts (not including Winston and Garrison Mathews, the other two-way player) after they waived backup center Anzejs Pasecniks on Sunday, opening salary cap space and a spot on the roster. The NBA is considering allowing teams to pick up a third two-way player to help ease the burden when players are held out because of coronavirus protocols.
In the longer term, Washington has applied for a $4.2 million disabled player exception in the wake of Bryant’s injury, which the team could use to pick up a more established player for the rest of the season.
“I think that’s an acknowledgment of how difficult it is to actually put a team together if you have multiple positives,” General Manager Tommy Sheppard said of the potential roster expansion during a virtual news conference Friday. “Grabbing guys — they have to be six days negative testing before they can even enter your facility, stuff like that; that makes it really hard to go find somebody if you have an emergency like we do.”
When asked Friday if he knew the origin of the team’s outbreak, Sheppard said there was no breach of NBA protocols and that it felt inevitable that the team would have positive cases.
In the week before players started testing positive, the Wizards played four straight opponents who had players either test positive or enter league protocols the day after the game. Washington continued on with its regular schedule throughout the week, which is not how the league has handled the Wizards’ most recent opponent. The Phoenix Suns had three games postponed because of contact tracing after playing at Capital One Arena last week.
When asked to explain the differences between the Wizards’ and the Suns’ treatment, an NBA spokesperson said each team’s case is different. The spokesperson did not elaborate on the differences that allowed the Wizards to continue playing.
“The contact tracing processes under our health and safety protocols are based on guidance from the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and review from infectious disease and other health and medical experts advising the NBA and the Players Association,” the spokesperson said in a statement to The Washington Post. “Under the protocols, each case is reviewed individually with the contact tracing group and physicians.”
Sheppard was asked Friday if the league should have stepped in after the Wizards’ opponents began testing positive. The general manager said he doesn’t “blame” anyone for the outbreak.
“The incubation period of this is seven to 10 days, so it can turn on you in a hurry. I hate to say it, but it was our turn,” Sheppard said. “It hit us all at once. Other teams, it’s hitting them a couple at a time. We shouldn’t feel special — other teams have gone through this; other teams will go through this.”
It’s true that almost every other team in the league has been touched by the coronavirus in some way, either by having a game postponed or having players enter the league’s health and safety protocols. But no other team’s season has been derailed to this extent.
Here’s a full list of postponed games this season as of Monday afternoon:
- Dec. 23: Oklahoma City Thunder at Houston Rockets
- Jan. 10: Miami Heat at Boston Celtics
- Jan. 11: New Orleans Pelicans at Dallas Mavericks
- Jan. 12: Boston Celtics at Chicago Bulls
- Jan. 13: Utah Jazz at Washington Wizards
- Jan. 13: Orlando Magic at Boston Celtics
- Jan. 13: Atlanta Hawks at Phoenix Suns
- Jan. 15: Washington Wizards at Detroit Pistons
- Jan. 15: Golden State Warriors at Phoenix Suns
- Jan. 15: Memphis Grizzlies at Minnesota Timberwolves
- Jan. 16: Indiana Pacers at Phoenix Suns
- Jan. 17: Cleveland Cavaliers at Washington Wizards
- Jan. 17: Philadelphia 76ers at Oklahoma City Thunder
- Jan. 18: Cleveland Cavaliers at Washington Wizards
- Jan. 20: Washington Wizards at Charlotte Hornets